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Opening doors (of perception) with a Undergraduate Research Grant

Opening doors (of perception) with a Undergraduate Research Grant

Thursday, February 15, 2018

by Nathan Seaford (History, '17)

Last July I held the sheet of paper on which Aldous Huxley had scribbled his last written thoughts, just hours before his death in 1963.  Unfortunately, what he wrote is nearly illegible—Huxley’s handwriting was difficult enough to read when he wasn’t in pain on his deathbed.  Still, the intimacy of those notes gave me goose bumps. 

Thanks to a Fort Lewis College Undergraduate Research Grant, I took a road trip to the archives of UCLA and UC Davis.  At UCLA, I spent three days reading Huxley’s hand written correspondences with Dr. Timothy Leary, Dr. Albert Hofmann (the scientist who first synthesized LSD), and several of his contemporary artists, writers, and scientists.  At UC Davis, I examined issues of the San Francisco Oracle, an underground psychedelic newspaper published in Haight-Ashbury in the mid-sixties.  With articles from the Oracle and notes I took from the archived Huxley papers my research was not just original in its ideas, but also had original and never-before-used primary sources. 

My thesis explains how leading users of psychedelics in mid-century America felt that their consciousness-expanding drug use was part of an American tradition of exploring new frontiers.  I also examine how psychedelics, through the cultural producers and mass numbers that used them, could have helped usher in postmodernity as a dominant cultural condition.

My topic was a lot for me to grasp and condense into an article-length piece of research. But unlike most departments at FLC, the History department has created a two-semester senior capstone project. The extra semester allows ideas to mature in our minds and grants enough time for us to read the great expanse of literature necessary for a history thesis. 

As the project was coming to form in the second semester, my professors encouraged me to submit it to Phi Alpha Theta’s National Convention in New Orleans.  As a national honors society, Phi Alpha Theta’s biennial National Convention attracts hundreds of undergraduates, graduate students, and professors from all over the country.  It was quite intimidating!

When my paper was accepted, I applied for a travel grant from FLC. The school granted me the money, and just after the New Year I was flying to New Orleans to present at a major conference. With the conference hotel just one block away from the French Quarter, I enjoyed the cultural as well as the academic experience. The day of my presentation I treated like Race Day on FLC’s cycling team. I was focused and prepared. My presentation was great.  It was a thrill, actually!  I even had the department chair from Harding University thank and congratulate me for “such a fine project and presentation.”

The History department’s senior research project was the pinnacle of my experience at Fort Lewis College.  Through the work it demanded, I’ve grown as a thinker, researcher, writer, and presenter.  And I hope to use the experience as a catapult into graduate school.

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